I live in one of the most tech-savvy neighborhoods (Potrero Hill) in one of the most tech-savvy cities in the world (San Francisco). Yet, I can't get better than 1.2 Mbps broadband speed from my DSL provider (AT&T). I tried to upgrade to a higher speed, but, apparently, my home is too far away from where AT&T pumps out extra bandwidth juice. Seems crazy, self-defeating and depressing all in one.
It takes about 5 Mbps to stream a quality video or do video conferencing without speed bumps. You need 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps to watch high-def video over the Internet and get what is generally presumed to be "next-generation" Internet services. And, it's that 100 Mbps figure that tech leaders demanded for 100 million homes and small businesses by 2010 back in 2002.
Coming on 2007, the Cisco tech policy blog notes that a report just announced that the U.S. has reached 51.4 million subscribers. But, as the post suggests, we are far away from reaching the halfway point of 100 Mbps in 100 million homes. That's because of the shady math used to measure what broadband actually is. As FCC commissioner Michael Copps says, the FCC considers 200 Kbps "broadband." Basically, that gets you a textual Web page that opens up quickly. Just don't try to download music, stream video, use the connection for VoIP, play an online game or do anything else that might be considered a normal use of your computer in Korea, France or Japan (where you can get a 26 Mbps connection for $22 a month).
A California Public Utility Commission report on broadband (pdf here) notes that as the Canadian National Broadband Task Force was determining an appropriate definition, it reported that "among the 14 countries that were surveyed, national definitions of the term ranged from as low as 2 Mbps to high as 30 Mbps."
The CPUC says that the Canadians decided not to define broadband in terms of information transmission rates, but instead...
defined it as "a high capacity, two-way link between end users and access network suppliers capable of supporting full-motion interactive video applications to all Canadians on terms comparable to those available in urban markets." Based on the technology existing at the time, it concluded that a minimum two-way or symmetrical transmission speed of 1.5 Mbps per individual user was required to meet this standard. In the future, the CNBTF predicted, speeds of up to 4 to 6 Mbps would be required to handle emerging applications such as peer-to-peer video file sharing and video conferencing.
The ridiculous truth: Nearing 2007 and based on Canadian standards, I don't have true broadband in my home and neither do many of my Internet savvy neighbors (who seemingly all work for tech companies).***
Naturally, if there was more robust competition in major markets, we might have better true broadband penetration in the US. But, yet again, we are faced with another math problem. Namely, the FCC will say that an area has multiple broadband providers if a singe residence in a Zip Code can get broadband from more than one source. The non-partisan Governmental Accountibility Office has slammed this practice.
Following up, the GAO just released a new report on FCC monitoring practices. TechDirt sums it up...
...the report's title is: "FCC Needs to Improve Its Ability to Monitor and Determine the Extent of Competition in Dedicated Access Services." They're not shy about their findings either. The report looks at services for businesses, rather than consumers, but the findings are pretty stark. In various metropolitan areas, they only found competition in 6% of buildings. In certain areas that are considered to have "high demand" the number only goes up to 10 to 25%. Furthermore, the report found that while overall prices have decreased, it only was due to regulatory pressure to push down prices. In the areas where the FCC claimed there was competition and removed regulatory control of pricing, pricing tended to rise.
All this means that when you see lists like this....
Broadband countries by number of connections per 100 households
1 South Korea
2 Hong Kong
You get claims based largely on bad math that things really aren't so bad in the US.
California's Governor Schwarzenegger has announced a visionary plan to increase true broadband penetration and competitiveness in California. With a new Congress in town that has long promised big innovative strides forward should they take power, we hope to see similar strides taken in DC. As we've long argued, it would render much of the Net Neutrality debate irrelevant.
***All my complaining aside, I *can* now get Comcast cable broadband to my home. (Long story: It would be less than ideal, but may become necessary).